Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsDead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsDead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Dead Man in a Ditch (2020) is the second book in Luke Arnold’s FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES. It follows The Last Smile in Sunder City in which we met “man for hire” Fetch Phillips who, out of guilt for his role in the event that destroyed magic in the world, works only for the magical creatures who are now suffering and feeling threatened.

Fetch has a couple of investigations going on in this installment. An elderly elf has asked him to find out who killed her husband. Meanwhile the police investigator has asked him to investigate a seemingly unrelated crime — a murder that looks a lot like it was done with magic though, supposedly, magic has disappeared from the world. Fetch certainly believes that magic is gone, but rumors are circulating that if anyone knows anything different, it must be Fetch.

During his investigations, Fetch discovers some dirty deeds going on in Sunder City — deeds that will have a lasting negative impact on the city and its citizenry. Fetch needs to find the bad actors and thwart their plans.

A significant part of the plot of Dead Man in a Ditch features flashbacks to Fetch’s youth, which was often unpleasant and brutal until Fetch met a mentor who took him under his wing. Now Fetch is beginning to see some of his past experiences in a new light.

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIn my review of The Last Smile in Sunder City, I mentioned that the FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES has a lot of promise. Though he’s self-loathing and excessively melancholy, Fetch is a nice fellow. While reading Dead Man in a Ditch, there were times that I was disappointed in Fetch. He seemed to turn his brain off when one particular character was around. I didn’t believe in this sudden naivety and conformity. It felt contrived to me — a way to get him into certain predicaments that were heavily foreshadowed.

Similar to the first book, Dead Man in a Ditch has a tendency for too much telling (infodumps), and a lack of clever villains and likeable side characters (this is a serious problem). There’s also a paucity of witty humor, something expected from this sort of fantasy series, and something that would have brightened these stories up quite a bit.

On the positive side is an intriguing urban setting, an interesting premise, an appealing writing style, and the fact that the audio versions produced by Hachette Audio are narrated by the author himself (who is a professional actor). Overall, FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES is just “average” so far, but I’m willing to give it some more time.

Published in September 2020. A former soldier turned PI solves crime in a world that’s lost its magic in this brilliant sequel to actor Luke Arnold’s debut The Last Smile in Sunder City. The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure. Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot. Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley. What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world. But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder. Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.